Learning how to eat healthy on a tight budget seems impossible, but it’s not. Anyone who regularly budgets grocery shopping will tell you that shopping in general when money is tight is challenging enough, but looking to add primarily healthy items to your cart is an intimidating process for anyone not aware that healthy foods can be budget-friendly. We’re not saying it’s always a breeze to walk into the supermarket, fill your car with healthy items and walk back to your car successfully on budget with only the healthiest of items filling your shopping bags.
It’s hard; especially when the kids are asking for those free bakery cookies, no longer want them and you are forced to eat them (you cannot throw away a free cookie) and then you pass the woman cooking up something not even remotely healthy but boy, does it smell delicious. Just one little taste. What? A free wine sample? Better try the red…and the white.
Better yet, you might leave the kids at home to torture bond with daddy for a bit, eat and then head to the supermarket or you’re never going to learn to eat healthy on a tight budget. We also have a few other tips that benefit our budget-minded shoppers incessantly when it comes to shopping and eating healthy on a tight budget. Ready, set, shop!
Leave the Kids at Home
We really were not kidding. It’s not easy to shop in general with kids in tow, and it’s even more difficult to shop for items that allow you to eat healthy on your tight budget when tiny humans with sweet faces, big eyes and pouty lips are asking for balloons, candy and every single thing they see in the store. Anytime I send my husband to the store with the kids to shop for us, he comes home having spent at least $20 more than he anticipated simply because of them. They each have a balloon, they each have one of those big cookies from the bakery filled with M&Ms (because the free cookie is just not that exciting) and likely more than that.
- Plan shopping trips around time the kids are otherwise occupied.
- Save money on items you don’t need in an effort to keep kids quiet and entertained so that you can concentrate on your list.
Have a List
No, really, you need a list. We say this all the time, yet no one ever listens. I’m glad you cannot see me hold my head in shame. A shopping list is the best thing you can do for your budget, your peace of mind and your entire week.
- Plan your meals in advance so that you know what you’re having each night. Write down all the ingredients under each meal and then go through the kitchen to see what you already have, what you need and how much you need.
- Make a list of what’s left to purchase, make a dinner calendar on the fridge and then make sure that you stick completely to the list when it comes to your shopping.
- Don’t forget other things, too, that you might need. It’s easy to make a dinner list for the week and then forget things such as breakfast and laundry detergent because you’re so focused on that one meal.
Check the Sales Fliers
Here’s where it gets just a little bit more involved. We can all leave the kids home, jot down a list and head to the store but it’s not really helping us save money other than by forgoing balloons and designer bakery cookies. Now we need to know how to make a list that allows you to eat healthy and stay on track with your tight budget. This is when it’s time to bust out the sales fliers, the internet and your inner shopping diva.
- Sign up for your supermarket rewards program, if one is available.
- Check the sales flier and adjust your weekly menu based on which healthy items are on sale. For example, if you see that strawberries are on sale buy one, get one this week, change out that Caesar salad on Tuesday night for a strawberry and walnut salad on spinach with a homemade balsalmic dressing. It’s win-win for all involved. Do this with the entire list and you’ll be surprised just how many modifications you can make to ensure sales items are the main dish as often as possible.
It’s not always easy to come up with different recipes that allow you to eat both healthy and on a budget. Perhaps you have one or two go-to recipes in mind, but there are seven days in a week and you’re going to tire of those two recipes quickly. Now is the time to get creative and find recipes you can use to eat healthy on your tight budget.
- Sign up for Pinterest if you haven’t already. You’ll be able to narrow your searches for healthy food items that are delicious, look amazing and have very simple instructions.
- Ask friends and family for advice on making different recipes with healthier menu options and go from there.
- Modify your favorite existing recipe to make it healthier (i.e. substitute pasta for spaghetti squash and ground beef for ground turkey when you make your famous spaghetti and meatballs for dinner).
Buy in Bulk
The good news is that almost anything can be frozen for at least a period of time, and that makes shopping and eating healthy on a tight budget a breeze. If you love fresh seafood but aren’t looking to pay the price for a pound of fresh salmon, wait for it to go on sale and then buy a few pounds, freeze them and eat them as you see fit. It’s a great way to always have on hand what you need, what’s healthy and what you will eat. The same goes for chicken; buy it when it’s on sale, freeze what you’re not using and use it as you go.
- Don’t buy what you don’t eat just because it’s on sale.
- Don’t buy items that are not healthy just because they are on sale and you want to save some money.
- Consider items you use a lot when cooking, such as olive oil and other ingredients – seasonings, perhaps – and buy those in bulk. I love this particular $10 a bottle olive oil and we use it to cook all the time, but I will only buy it when it’s BOGO, and then I stock up.
Not everyone is a fan of frozen items; I’m not. I would much rather have my vegetables fresh and delicious that way, but they do go bad very quickly. This is when it does become a good idea to play ahead by shopping your favorite veggies when they’re on sale from the frozen section. When I make edamame, for example, it’s just as good if it’s fresh as it is when it comes from the freezer section, but I can keep it in the freezer a lot longer than the fridge.
- Check for sales that include frozen vegetables so that you can make the most of your money.
- Include as many frozen vegetables as you can in your meals to make them a healthy as possible.
Meatless meals are an idea, even though there are some I know are currently balking at that concept. Meat is expensive, and it makes it difficult to eat healthy on a tight budget when you’re spending the bulk of your budget on meat. Instead, go for meals that don’t involve meat so that you can save tremendously. For example, our favorite meal is one that’s healthy and delicious and does not include any meat. We love to have a decadent pasta dish made with whole wheat pasta cooked al dente. We then sauté a little bit of olive oil with salt, add some minced garlic, cut up a few cherry tomatoes and add them to the olive oil mixture, allow it all to simmer for a few minutes and then cover the pasta with the olive oil mix. We add a pinch of fresh parmesan cheese and a little feta cheese to the top and voila – decliousness in a bowl.
- Consider vegetable heavy dishes such as stir fry without meat and pasta dishes with whole wheat pasta.
- Salads are a great meatless alternative when they are done correctly.
- Create a variety of vegetable dishes to go with meatless meals so no one is left feeling hungry and denied.
Get Ethnic in the Kitchen
One of the simplest and most amazing ways to learn to eat healthy on a tight budget is to unleash your inner ethnic goddess. If you haven’t an inner ethnic goddess, it’s time to locate her and bring her out. Ethnic food from many different cultures is very heavy on certain very inexpensive ingredients, such as rice and beans. These are not only cheap, but also good for you. Learn to do what the Asians do, which is create an entire meal that focuses on a plate of rice seasoned to perfection and served with a myriad of fresh vegetables.
- Check your favorite cookbooks and Pinterest boards for items that include ethnic foods to see what you can do and to learn from example.
- Get Mexican; they’re amazing with dishes that focus on cheap items that are also healthy, such as beans, and that will help you with your menu planning.
Learn to Prep Meals in Advance
If you’re really learning how to eat healthy on a tight budget, you’re going to need to learn to prep your meals ahead of time so that they are there and readily available, and so that you save yourself some time and effort. It’s far easier to stick to your budget and your healthy eating habits if your food is already prepped for you and you need only heat it up. Otherwise, it’s tempting to want to skip meals and go a different route when you’re feeling lazy.
- Cut and prepare vegetables in advance.
- Aim for prepping two meals in advance on Sunday night to break up the week (i.e. cook fresh on Monday, eat prepped on Tuesday, fresh Wednesday, etc.).
- Prep other meals in advance to make life even easier, such as cooking up some oatmeal protein bars on Sundays and cutting them up to eat each morning for breakfast. It helps tremendously and stops you from the temptation to run through a drive thru or coffee shop in the morning.
Sign up for Easy Coupons
I cannot speak for every supermarket, but I know that here in the not quite so dirty south, we have Publix. If you’ve never heard of Publix, I am deeply, deeply sorry for your unfortunate loss. At Publix, we can sign up for an online account or download an app – all free of charge. We create a username and password and we have instant access to the sales fliers, printable coupons and digital coupons that are available. What I like to do is ‘clip’ the digital coupons because it’s no fuss and completely hassle free. Clip them, enter my phone number from my account at checkout and my clipped coupons are automatically applied to my purchase with absolutely no effort on my part whatsoever.
- Go through the digital coupons weekly and see what’s available. Even if things that are not currently on your list are on there, save them because they are usually good for a solid month.
- Use these to save on items you don’t eat, such as diapers and wipes for the baby, body wash and shampoo and toothpaste and cleaning supplies for you: When you can save money elsewhere, it does provide you with a little more cushion to pick up items that will allow you to eat healthy on a tight budget.
Good luck and happy shopping.
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